Reviews

The most absorbing, provocative and compelling book I have read in a long time. Joseph Henrich’s thrilling exposé of cultural variety and evolution is grounded in meticulous science, and his arguments go beyond the milestone of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. You will never look again in the same way at your own seemingly universal values’ Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, University College London

"Joseph Henrich has undertaken a massively ambitious work that explains the transition to the modern world from kin-based societies, drawing on a wealth of data across disciplines that significantly contributes to our understanding of this classic issue in social theory." Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay

In the last 500 years, Westerners have become more educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic than any other societies in history—which, says Joe Henrich, has made Westerners think differently about the world from everyone else. Drawing on anthropology, economics, history, and psychology, this magnificent book measures and even explains just how different Westerners are. It is a major contribution to the debates over why the West rules. It will make you think even more differently about the world than you already do.” —Ian Morris, author of War! What is it Good For?

"The Weirdest People in the World  is a novel and fascinating look at our democratic western societies. The book presents a wealth of evidence that cultural learning and specific cultural rules of kinship relations generated the psychological foundations underlying the economic success of “the West”. It is an exciting read that covers economics, sociology, psychology, history, and neuroscience." Ernst Fehr, University of Zurich, author of Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain

“Joe Henrich has thought more deeply about cultural evolution than anybody alive. His fascinating insights into just how weird people like he and I are, with our western lifestyles, and what the implications of that are for better and for worse, are a great contribution to scholarship and literature.” —Matt Ridley, author of How Innovation Works    

 
"Henrich (The Secret of Our Success), a psychology and economics professor, proposes a grand thesis about how the cultures he identifies as WEIRD—“Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic”—came to be so, in this ambitious and fascinating book. The acronym is intentional, to signal that the cultural experience and individualistic mindset of countries such as the U.S. and U.K. are historically unusual. The first major shift Henrich identifies occurred in medieval Europe, as traditional kin-based loyalties were weakened by the intellectual and cultural dominance of the Roman Catholic church. In his view, the later emergence of representative democracy wasn’t due to “an intellectual epiphany” but to the experience of those people in the late Middle Ages who “began to form competing voluntary associations” and thus became more open to viewing themselves as individuals. Henrich also explores the persistent distinction in mindset between individualistic and communal societies, based on psychological studies conducted by himself and colleagues. For example, people in individualistic societies more often reported experiencing guilt, concerning how one views oneself, while those in communal societies more often felt shame, concerning how one is viewed by other people. This meaty book is ready-made for involved discussions." Publisher's Weekly
 

“Written in clear and vivid prose, Joseph Henrich’s new book argues that the psychological characteristics of populations in modern prosperous countries are by no means universal to all human societies, and were the result of institutional changes brought about by the Catholic Church in Europe during the middle ages. These changes laid the foundation, claims Hendrich, for almost everything else that followed. Bold and original, this book will shape the debate about the origins of modern society for years to come.” — Paul Seabright, author of The War of the Sexes

 

Reading this book feels like digging in your backyard and discovering a lost city. What Henrich has unearthed is truly astonishing: The modern West owes its prosperity to strange ways of thinking, created by accident centuries before the European Enlightenment. If that sounds improbable to you, prepare to meet a mountain of evidence, compiled by one of the great systematic thinkers of our time. This book is at once monumental and thrilling.” —Joshua Greene, author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

"Generations of scholars have grappled with the question of why the West rose. Henrich’s intriguing new answer reveals how history shaped psychology and psychology changed history. Western Europe’s shift from traditional kinship networks to voluntary associations fostered the individualism and literacy that opened up a uniquely WEIRD path to transformative progress. Propelled by a bold vision, this landmark study is required reading for anyone curious about the origins of modernity." Walter Scheidel, author of Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity

"Polymath and pioneering thinker Joseph Henrich has made a major contribution to the social sciences by demonstrating, through careful study, how Western societies are psychologically odd, relative to the rest of humanity. Now, in this engaging and accessible text, Henrich elaborates on these important ideas, by explaining how the West got to be WEIRD in the first place, and how the peculiar psychology of Western countries proved instrumental to their success. Along the way, Henrich makes a compelling case that human minds are not fated to think in a universal manner, but tune themselves surprisingly flexibly to the idiosyncrasies of local culture." —Kevin Laland, author of Evolutionary Causation: Biological and Philosophical Reflections

“In this brilliant synthesis of cultural evolution and social psychology, Joseph Henrich explores the deep historical roots of individualism, generalized trust, impersonal prosociality, and analytical thinking—in short, the psychological traits that make people WEIRD.” —Peter Turchin, the author of Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth

“Henrich’s book combines a startling account of the mental and social oddities of westerners with a persuasive new explanation for them. The concept of a universal human psyche will never be the same again.” —Richard Wrangham, author of The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution

"A dazzling achievement. In the course of explaining how modern Western culture differs from all others past and present, Joseph Henrich has both altered and unified the fields of anthropology, history, psychology and economics. He destroys the assumption, common in psychology and endemic in economics, that human nature is everywhere the same. His account makes it possible to understand why some cultures have readily adopted Western tools to transform their societies, economies and politics while others reject those tools." — Richard Nisbett, author of Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking
 
"There's nothing so fascinating as a social anthropologist's analysis of his own tribe. Joseph Henrich shows how strange and exceptional Western society is when compared with most of the world, and links it with features of the WEIRD brain." — John Barton, author of A History of the Bible
 
A masterpiece. Staggering in range, intricate in detail, thrilling in ambition, this book is a landmark in social thought. Henrich may go down as the most influential social scientist of the first half of the twenty-first century.” — Matthew Syed, British journalist, author of Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success

 

"The chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard limns the social and mental conditions that have made the West wealthy. Other writers, notably Carlo Cipolla, have linked the rise of literacy to prosperity in the developed world. Henrich takes the argument further to correlate it to being “WEIRD”—i.e., "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.” Literacy is a major component, especially the Protestant literacy that placed the vernacular Bible into the hands of individuals, emphasized free will, and encouraged the cultivation of individual traits and interests. So it is that Westerners—and members of societies that have emulated the West, such as Japan—also have peculiar, novel, and relatively recent mental markers, including a bias toward the right hemisphere of the brain and for analytical processing of data in the place of “broad configurations and gestalt patterns.” There are emotional and sociological sequelae, including the development of cultures that favor guilt over shame and of notions of justice and social organization that accord high levels of trust to strangers as opposed to kin-based groups. This last represents a significant break with primate tradition, with its preference for “kin altruism.” There are all kinds of wrinkles to this engrossing story, which Henrich illustrates with graphs and charts. Where there are high rates of cousin marriage, he writes, the more likely it is that people mistrust strangers; concomitantly, there are few “impersonal trust levels” that allow for the flourishing of credit and trade. Throughout, the author dives deep, even correlating the willingness to donate blood to the extension of kin altruism to those who aren’t related to us. “Many WEIRD people,” he writes, “have a set of folk beliefs that lead them to assume that any observed psychological differences among populations are due to economic differences.” In fact, the opposite is true: First come the psychological differences, then comes the money, which, the author allows, isn’t perfectly understood. A fascinating, vigorously argued work that probes deeply into the way “WEIRD people” think." Kirkus Reviews